L’Arche gives reclaimed wood a beautiful new lease on life

September 20, 2023

Nestled at the foot of the mountains by the waters of the Bras d’Or lakes, L’Arche Cape Breton is part of an international federation of people with and without intellectual disabilities living together to celebrate the unique value of every person.

It’s a vibrant community which ensures that its members are valued for their individual gifts, often expressed through artisanship and creativity. Along with a very active weaving program, members take part in baking, gardening, or staffing local favourites such as the Hope Chest and the Ark Store. These are just some of the activities that allow their skills and interests to grow and shine through.

And in this, its 40th anniversary year, L’Arche Cape Breton has partnered with the Municipality of Inverness County to kick-start a brand-new program: working with reclaimed wood that was destined for landfill to create beautiful, practical items that give the wood a second life.

Turning trash into a table that’s a treasure

Shannon MacLean had recently joined the municipal team as Re-Use & Waste Diversion Lead when she identified a rich seam to mine: reusable materials that were heading to landfill.

The Waste Services team reached out to The Angels’ Loft, an artisans’ workshop run by L’Arche in Orangedale. They invited members, including Silas Donham, to visit the waste management facility in Kenloch and think about the potential for re-use.

While researching possible products to make, Shannon and Silas both independently came upon the same Australian artisan on YouTube. (Shout out to the Dainer Made: making cool stuff out of recycled timber! youtube.com/@dainermade)

It seemed like the stars were aligned, and L’Arche members got underway learning the skills to transform dozens of reclaimed pallets into a beautifully crafted boardroom table.

“It’s a great feeling

Evan Ranson – one of the team that worked on the table – talks enthusiastically about this first experience of working with reclaimed pallets.

“This is wood that people didn’t respect anymore,” Evan says. “It was on its way to landfill, but we saved it. We created something beautiful and useful, but also, we did it out of something that no one thought had any value anymore. That’s a great feeling.”

The pride that this project has produced is palpable when talking to L’Arche members. This was a professional assignment, and the team really wanted to get it right. There were challenges along the way, but perseverance paid off.

“I really put everything into this project,” Evan adds. “All of my emotions went into this. I eat, sleep, and breathe it. If I didn’t do this, I don’t know what I’d be doing.”

Learning together generates passion and value

“This project has been an immense learning curve for us – and such a rewarding experience for the whole team,” Silas notes. “Working with reclaimed wood to produce beautiful, functional pieces like this table helps us reimagine what might be possible for our members. Such a range of different skills are needed so it allows us to come together
to co-create.”

At L’Arche, when evaluating the quality of programs, what’s important is how much core members’ gifts are revealed. The aim is for people to blossom and grow as artisans and as valued members of the wider community. Being valued is something we all cherish, and the skills we master contribute an important part of our identity.

“It’s like Evan was saying – meaningful work really stirs people’s passion,” Silas says. “We aren’t interested in ‘busywork’ for our members – just doing something for the sake of filling the time. Our programs give people the chance to discover and develop new skills, collaborate towards shared goals as a team. And in this case, also be leaders in combating the environmental crisis.”

Shannon says this project has given her a renewed sense of the value of her role. “There’s no limit to what a team can do if they’re inspired!” she adds. “This project has showed that people can exceed the expectations that society might have of them – both for what we can do as individuals, and what we as a society can do for the environment. It’s so inspiring.”

Like Evan says, “Nobody wanted this old wood – well they will now!”